A letter to young alumni and reframing giving

As Middlebury counts down the hours to the end of fiscal year, the rush is on to get Middlebury alumni to give money (deadline is midnight tonight). I’ve long seen a tension between young alumni and the school on this issue. Middlebury needs high alumni participation in giving. Some young alumni feel put off by calls to give when they are paying off debt from their time at Middlebury and are maybe struggling as young professionals. Then there’s a whole set up of the senior class gift and how early participation means long-term giving. It goes on.

Just yesterday, I saw my classmate Sam Libby ‘09.5 post a letter to Facebook (see below). In it he addresses specifically the “bitterness” of young alumni and makes an argument for why we should give.

His letter is the best thing I’ve seen on this issue because he addresses a problem that no one wants to talk about. He dispels myths: The bigger the donation the better, you have to give to the annual fund, etc. Sam says all of this is “a message that is not well communicated in the literature.” True. But I think Middlebury has already lost by framing anything for young alumni as “literature” that needs to be put in front of middkids (even on social media). Same with framing anything with percentages, rates, and rankings.

MiddStart anyone? MiddGoal? That’s how the majority of young alumni should be accessing “giving” to the College. We’re a generation that uses Square and Kickstarter. Giving has to be fun, inclusive, community-driven, and largely not about the money but about the experience. MiddStart doesn’t say: “GIVE MONEY TO MIDDLEBURY!” Instead, it says: “Here’s something cool that real students want to do. Fund it, if you want to see it happen.” That change in framing makes a world of difference and shifts the conversation away from that tension I mentioned above. Now, I get that MiddStart is a whole different ballgame (micro giving), and it was created under the veil that people would/could give to specific projects AND give more broadly to Middlebury. I don’t care. Young alumni need a different frame for giving. MiddStart is well… a start.

Enough babbling – you should just read Sam’s letter (printed with permission, emphasis mine):

Fellow Midd Alums,

There has been a lot of vocal dissatisfaction with Middlebury’s “strenuous” messaging on the topic of giving to the Annual Fund for 2012, both on Facebook and in discussion I’ve had with other people. I think that the reasons to give for young alumni are very different from the reasons that older or more financially successful folks give, and I wanted to describe what I see as the reasons to give at our age. I also was hoping to convince some of you to reduce the bitterness with which you’re referring to Middlebury, as the last thing I want is to see is a souring of the relationship between the alumni who make up a large part of my social network and a place that I love as much as Middlebury.

First, to everyone lamenting the number of emails and letters:
It’s a passive form of communication that every charitable organization takes part in. If you really do not want to or do not feel able to give, then don’t, but please don’t blame the school for practicing what every other similar group apparently finds to be the most effective tactic. If you really don’t want to give, simply hit ‘delete’ on that email or throw your flyer in the recycling bin, problem solved.

There are two days remaining to give, today and tomorrow, to make it into the schools fiscal year accounting. This is important to Middlebury for a number of reasons, but there are two which I feel are most important:

1. The annual giving rate for alumni has a position in determining college rankings. However crass you feel this ranking system may be, it’s very important to College administrators, big donors, and to generations of 16-18 year old students considering their choice of tertiary education. This will be affected regardless of how much you give, be it $5 or $50.

2. There are often yearly offers of matching funds for the Annual fund. For example, if the alumni as a whole were to achieve a 60% giving rate, an anonymous donor might make a $1MM donation to the school as a reward. This type of thing happens frequently, and can make a big difference. In the same fashion, a $5 gift is as effective as a $50 gift in this situation. I’m not sure if this is the case this year, but it’s a small amount that could potentially make for a large reward.

If you feel that you benefitted from your Middlebury education in a fundamental way, as I think most of us do, then I ask you to consider giving in the next two days. The cost of educating a student at Midd is over $80,000, and after tuition the balance of this funding is made up largely from alumni giving. This giving has created and continues to sustain the endowment and provides for student financial aid.

Financial Aid was the only reason that I was able to attend Middlebury, along with hundreds of other students. That’s my reason for giving, to ensure that other people have that opportunity. That may not be your reason for wanting to give, but if you have a group you connected with at school, be it a social house, a student group or some other community of interest, you can choose to give directly to that group and make sure your money is going somewhere you care about.

To reiterate a message that is not well communicated in the literature, as young alumni it’s not about how much we give, as I know many people do not have a lot of disposable income, but about the pattern of giving and making the effort to show you’re committed to being involved. I would think that many of us can spare $5 and forego one drink out on the town in favor of supporting a place whose importance we can hopefully all agree on.

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2 thoughts on “A letter to young alumni and reframing giving

  1. As long as Bill McKibben remains part of the College community, Harvard and not Middlebury will be the recipient of our family giving.

    Maybe you should reflect on what kind of place allows someone a comfortable place from which to attempt to politically profit from the hardship of their neighbors…

    The Monday after Irene, when WDEV had shut down commercial broadcasting in order to serve its listeners with the vital logistical information they so desperately needed, Bill McKibben was on NPR/VPR actually discussing the political ramifications of the storm.

    If you’re making political calculations when people 5 miles away are unsure how they are going to cloth/feed/house their families, and you are using that hardhsip to further your political goals, you are repugnent human deserving only of scorn.

    How do I know?

    My family and I were fighting the roads across 125 to get to some semblance of safety and security…

    As long as Middlebury pretends that Mr. McKibben is some source of moral good in the world instead of the obvious political profiteer he is, Middlebury will not get a penny…

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